Copyright law reinforces monopoly, Open Source Society warns MPs

Posted by d0nk3y on May 13, 2007 3:16 PM EDT
Computerworld New Zealand; By Rob O'Neill
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Technological protection could close PC platforms to open source operating systems

The New Zealand Open Source Society is opposing those parts of the Copyright Amendment Bill that would make it illegal to circumvent technological protection of copyright.

The society argued, before a parliamentary committee, that such measures would reinforce Microsoft’s market power.

Addressing Parliament’s Commerce Committee, the NZOSS gave the planned changes to the Copyright Act a big thumbs-down. The society’s legislative review team, which prepared its submission, argues that the provisions, which could make it illegal to circumvent technological protection mechanisms (TPMs), effectively nullify the legalisation of activities such as time-shifting (the recording of content for later consumption) or format-shifting.

The NZOSS also argues that the protection of TPMs in law will “legislate competitors to Microsoft out of the market”. The submission says the law, as presently proposed, will make it impossible for companies competing with Microsoft’s Windows operating system to interoperate with new hardware.

NZOSS’ president, Peter Harrison, who presented the society’s case, says the politicians were interested in what the society had to say and it was clear they hadn’t heard all of the arguments before. They were especially interested in the effect the law might have on competition and how TPMs could be used to protect the content-delivery channel as well as the content itself.

However, Harrison doubts the society’s arguments will be enough to prompt reconsideration. “[The debate] is caught up in free-trade agreements with the US and China. There are bigger political issues in play,” he says.

The NZOSS submission argues that computer hardware companies are increasingly expected to encumber connections to screens and speakers with TPM systems.

“The details of these connections will be kept secret or protected by patents, so that competitors to Windows cannot work with new hardware.”

The result, the society argues, will be that other operating systems will be locked out.

“Normally, it would be possible to figure out how a device works and write a driver to interface with the new device. However, this legislation will make such circumvention illegal,” the submission says.

But, Microsoft says, TPMs play an important role in creating a vibrant online business environment. The company believes their role should be recognised in New Zealand’s copyright law “as it has been in many other countries”.

“There should certainly be limits to the protection offered by law for TPMs, but those limitations should be based on fact rather than hypothesis, and should incorporate the principle of protection balanced by carefully evaluated exceptions,” says Microsoft’s director of innovation, Brett Roberts.

Peter Gutmann

Auckland University security researcher Peter Gutmann, whose critical views on the copyright protection mechanisms built into Windows Vista made world headlines late last year, says Microsoft can’t admit that a convenient side-effect of TPMs could be the exclusion of competitors from PC platforms.

He says this is a very real threat, as vendors won’t be able to publish details of the TPMs.

“Already, open-source developers have difficulty accessing the information they need to build drivers,” he says. And TPMs could make this even more difficult.

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